Long Reads

West Ham’s Argentine Transfer Saga

After the 2006 World Cup in Germany, talk of where the young Argentinian duo Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano would end up began to circulate.

Despite ultimately being what seems now like yet another disappointing showing from Argentina at a World Cup, for a young Mascherano and Tevez it was their first real chance to show their class on the world stage.

The combative Mascherano started every match in the heart of the Argentina midfield, breaking up play and starting attacks for his sides formidable front line. Tevez, a young energetic pitbull of a striker, had to wait for his opportunity, with Hernan Crespo and Javier Saviola upfront. Argentina were somewhat blessed, so much so Tevez was joined on the bench by a certain Lionel Messi.

Tevez got his chance off the bench in a 6-0 victory over Serbia and Montenegro, scoring after coming on. In the final group game against Holland, with both teams all but qualified, Argentina boss José Pékerman gave Tevez a start and he shone despite a goalless draw.

Tevez was a classy striker with phenomenal work rate, capable of sublime finishing and, at this time, with an incredible goalscoring ratio. Mascherano a tough-tackling holding midfielder, one of the best in the business at shielding the back four and allowing his more attacking teammates to express themselves.

Unsurprisingly, a host of Europe’s elite were all manoeuvring to acquire the talented duo, who seemingly were playing beneath their abilities in South America. Although surprisingly, when the widely expected transfer arrived, it wasn’t any of the Champions League giants who secured the youngsters, it was in fact, the Premier League’s own – West Ham United.

The Hammers, from essentially nowhere, had pulled off a coup to end all coups. Having been recently promoted and after a tentative ninth-placed finish one season earlier, as well as a dismal start to the 2006/07 campaign, on the final day of the transfer window, Upton Park now welcomed two Argentinians seemingly with the world at their feet, both rather fittingly for undisclosed fees.

Even then manager Alan Pardew seemed bemused at the South American minor influx, perhaps not being able to believe his luck. The West Ham squad at the time consisted of the likes of Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood, Nigel Reo-Coker and these players were just as confused as the rest of us. It was to an extent real life Football Manager, and in many ways, it was just as exciting, even for a neutral.

Despite West Ham not exactly being small-fry, after all, they had just narrowly lost the FA Cup final to Steven Gerrard. The Hammers weren’t known for competing at the top transfer table or even the upper echelons of the football table in recent years, until now perhaps.

As the days went by and events unravelled, it emerged the deal had been completed without the influence of a large transfer fee. Tevez had a release clause in his Corinthians contract of around £83 million, which would have made him the most expensive player in the world at that time. Although it seemed they had acquired him and Mascherano combined for next to nothing.

The South American ownership model has always been somewhat confusing. Players are often owned in percentages by numerous parties, it was a world that until now had rarely been ventured into by English clubs.

However, following a phone call to the Premier League from then West Ham Commercial Director, Scott Duxbury, who had wanted to know about the legality of offshore companies owning the transfer rights of players, something was afoot and something certainly was not right.

The day after this phone call, apparently against the advice he was given and perhaps his better judgment, Duxbury sent over documents to the Premier League for the registration of Tevez and Mascherano as West Ham United players.

Perhaps the opportunity to sign two players of such potential for lowly West Ham was simply too good to turn down, regardless of the fallout, something about not looking a gift horse in the mouth.

After months of disappointing performances, rumblings were still heard about the transfers. In March 2007, with the club rather underperforming, a three-man investigative group was tasked with looking deep into the transfer dealings. It seemed obvious early on that the East London club were not likely to get away with matters.

No fewer than four third-party investment groups were involved. Namely: Media Sports Investments, Global Soccer Agencies, Just Sports Incorporate and Mystere Services Ltd, which were found to be in ownership of the transfer rights of the players, not West Ham United. Messy. All the groups with connections to one man – Kia Joorabchian, an Iranian-born British-educated businessman with a history of investing in football activities.

As dodgy as a situation this seemed, the men behind these companies and their allies were even dodgier. The panel found that they, rather than West Ham, held the power over the future transfers of both players. Something which directly contradicts FA rulings, leaving them with no choice but to bring a guilty verdict. The deal taking the two players from Corinthians had felt unsettling from the outset, but nobody could have predicted the true magnitude.

The club’s directors duly pleaded guilty as charged and just as it seemed a points deduction was inevitable, instead, the authorities opted for a record high £5.5 million fine in April 2007.

A surprise to many, a fine at this stage of the season did not harm the Hammers chances on the pitch, Tevez was allowed to keep playing and as it turned out, that proved crucial at the bottom end of the Premier League. On the field, things did not pan out as many may have expected, Tevez had waited weeks to get his first goal for the club, whilst a seemingly forever unsettled Mascherano left for Liverpool in January, where he found his true calling.

With just eight games to go, the East London club were ten points from safety and in serious danger of relegation; Argentinian imports or no Argentinian imports. It was from this moment on, a seemingly hapless West Ham side, and in truth, a similarly performing tenacious striker would find their form, just in the nick of time.

They picked up 21 points from their remaining matches, culminating in a final day completion of one of the greatest escapes, with victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Naturally, by now, it was almost inevitable that Tevez would score the only goal that day as his side were replaced in the drop zone by Sheffield United; The Blades going down to the Championship by virtue of goal difference, not that they would go down without a substantial fight just yet.

Following their relegation, Sheffield United cited foul play, rather understandably given the guilty verdict their topplers had already received. The board at Bramall Lane made the casing point they would in fact have stayed in the Premier League was it not for Tevez’s goal contributions. They believed Tevez should never have been allowed to play.

The Premier League’s decision not to dock points for the murky transfer dealings had undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the Sheffield club, and they were not happy. The resulting loss of revenue is a substantial amount of money, substantial enough for an impending court case and lots of outcries.

Not to be left behind, the then Blades boss Neil Warnock, who sought personal damages from West Ham, said: “As far as I’m concerned I should still be a Premier League manager. And I think the players have a case, too”. The row between the clubs and the Premier League was finally settled in September 2008, when an FA tribunal ruled in Sheffield United’s favour leading to West Ham owing a compensation package in excess of £20 million.

The money did go some way to resolving the matter, however, Sheffield United went on to suffer a near-decade of turmoil both on and off the pitch. This last season was their first back in the top flight since the debacle. From the outside looking in, it seems as if the bad blood between the two teams over the saga continues to this day, commentators certainly love to mention it whenever the two meet.

For Tevez, who many would argue shouldn’t have been playing, he had now arrived, seven goals in his final nine matches thrusting West Ham to safety and his name into the limelight, big clubs would begin to circulate once more. Ironically, it was final day hosts Manchester United who would come and take him, although who knows exactly who from.

Clearly missing the controversy of a transfer saga, Tevez got himself embroiled once more when in 2009, he made the move across to the blue side of Manchester. That infamous ‘Welcome To Manchester’ billboard befitting of the madness that had gone before.

Mascherano went from strength to strength following his Liverpool move, spending three years at Anfield before completing a lucrative move to Barcelona where quite frankly, he won everything.

Both Tevez and Mascherano went on to become world class footballers in their own right, with over 200 international appearances and plenty of club silverware between them. It’s fair to say they came a long way from the relegation fight of 2006/07, but the shadow of their initial transfers linger on to this day.

Even now, it’s difficult to explain exactly why the Argentinian pair, who could have chosen almost anywhere, would up at West Ham for that one manic season. Many people believe the multiple owners were simply using The Hammers as a ‘shop window’ for their stars, allowing more prospective buyers to see their ability at the top level, thus increasing their market value. Which in a round about way makes sense and worked. Regardless of motive, we will never forget the day two of the future world’s best joined West Ham United.

Article by Dan Clubbe via Football’s Finest